Plan to Be Surprised

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
~ John Lennon

One of my favorite movies is the comedy Dan in Real Life. The trailer for the film was awful. It wasn’t funny and did nothing to explain what the movie was about. If I hadn’t stumbled upon the film while cable channel surfing one day, I would never have discovered what a delightful film it truly is. Here’s a quick synopsis. Dan (played by Steve Carell) is a widower and father of three young girls who are growing up fast. He writes an advice column about parenting and family life although his own family is a bit dysfunctional. While at a reunion, he and his brother’s new girlfriend unintentionally fall in love, and the chaos begins. The situation is made all the more challenging because he tries to keep his feelings secret. Ironically, relatives of all ages try to give him guidance on finding love. At the end of the film, Dan offers this advice about “life plans…we hope that our kids make good, smart, safe plans of their own. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, most of the time, our plans don’t work out as we hoped. So instead of asking our young people, ‘What are your plans? What do you plan to with with your life?’ Maybe we should tell them this: ‘Plan to be surprised.'”

People who know me know that I like to plan. One of the most common questions I ask is, “What’s the plan?” And while I don’t have a complete aversion to spontaneity, I do like having a sense of what to expect in all situations. I love spreadsheets and use them to budget, to lay out travel lists so I don’t forget anything, and to map out activities. I don’t particularly like surprises — especially surprise parties. I detest the idea of being scared by people leaping out from behind furniture, or attending a party when I’m not dressed properly (at least in my mind).  Maybe it’s because of my introverted nature. I don’t like big crowds, so the last thing I want is to be surrounded by a large group even if they are friends and well wishers. And if I do have to be in a big group, I need time to mentally prepare myself. Again…the planning.

The years have taught me that when things don’t go as planned, it’s not always a bad thing. For instance, I never planned on living in New York. In fact, it was the last place I ever thought I’d live. New York City is crowded, dirty, and the people are abrupt and obnoxious — well, some of them. But here I am, a resident of the Empire State for more than two decades now, with a business of my own, amazing children, a wonderful school district, and great neighbors. I can’t say that I planned this, but it has turned out better than expected.

This next phase of life, the transition of kids leaving the nest, is hard for me. While we have been planning for the mechanics of college (SATs, applications, campus visits, scholarship forms), I didn’t plan on the emotional toll it would take. I keep counting the “lasts”:  last first day of school, last concert, last prom, last parent-teacher conference. But my friends who have been through it are quick to point out that there are a world of incredible “firsts” yet to come. I just need to look forward and not backward, and plan on being pleasantly surprised.

So while I’m still a student of the surprise-based life, I’m planning on getting better at it.

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